Creating and running a business is no easy task. It can be especially challenging as a young millennial fresh from college, with little to no experience as a leader in your field. That is exactly what this young Nigerian entrepreneur, Silas Adekunle, is doing. He created his company Reach Robotics, to solve a problem he saw within the classroom setting and the way children were learning. Read more of his story below.
VEU: How did you get started in the engineering field? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Growing up in Nigeria, I was fortunate that both of my parents worked in STEM fields. My father was a biochemistry teacher (and then head teacher) while my mother was a medical nurse, meaning I had ample opportunity to interact with technology and gain scientific knowledge. I’d spend hours dissecting gadgets and developing devices that I later realised were rudimentary robots. I also loved biology and wanted to become an Engineer or Zoologist. We moved over to the UK when I was 11 and there was a little bit of a culture shock in terms of access to technology. I’d never used a computer before so I had to pick things up very quickly in order to feed my curiosity. I also joined an after-school robotics club.
Given my early interests, robotics was a natural next step for my degree. At UWE, in Bristol, I learned to code and it was there that I had the first spark of an idea that would lead to MekaMon.
VEU: Tell us about starting Reach Robotics. What were some of the challenges you faced as a young entrepreneur in technology field?
One of my biggest challenges was self-doubt, given my background and inexperience as I was still a student. But what I lacked in experience, I made up for with youthful energy and the willingness to learn fast
I was also lucky to be in Bristol which has a great technology scene. Bristol Robotics Lab was incredibly supportive and Reach really got its start there – it was a fantastic place to be building a start-up. For every person sceptical that I could do it, there were two who were excited by my idea and enthusiasm.
The key has been to surround myself with people who can bring the experience and connections that filled in any gaps and ensured that we could make Reach and MekaMon a success.
VEU: What was the inspiration behind creating the MekaMon robot. What was the process like?
As a student, I taught in local schools and after noticing a disengagement with the materials of my students’ curriculum, I bought some robotics kits into the classroom. I combined that tech with some gaming principles and the reaction of the kids was just incredible. So, I took it one step further and created a ‘Reaching Robotics’ program designed around the framework of robotics and gaming in education.
I kept building on these ideas through University. I could see vividly how robotics could fuel the imagination of school kids and give a way into STEM to those students that might not have considered that path. I even pitched to The Prince’s Trust – an organisation in the UK that supports young entrepreneurs. But by the time I got to the penultimate year of my studies, I realised that this idea had potential beyond the classrooms. I’d be pairing robotics with gaming as part of my teaching – but what if I could do the same in a new breed of consumer technology?
With a bigger scale in mind, I created the very first prototype – a robot I called ‘Mecha Monsters’. It was built with knowledge garnered from the classroom – that people want and expect more from consumer robotics.
VEU: What is it like running a team of your own at such a young age? What are some things you had to get used to?
I went straight from university to running Reach – the only experience I had of working in an office environment was during my placement years at GE and Infineon. It’s why it was so important to build a team around me who were familiar with the ecosystem of a business. Additionally, from a very early age I’d learnt some important lessons from my father about creating a working environment that place people first and allowed them to do their best work.
So a brilliant office and people manager was pretty high up on the hiring list.
I’m also having to learn how to delegate. From three of us doing everything we now have whole departments running finance, talent acquisition, marketing and R&D… Very different from the early days when we were 3D printing parts in our COO’s garage!
VEU: You also have a distribution deal with Apple. How did that come about?
We were listed on Apple just under a year ago which was a huge step forward for us. Naturally, it’s a real stamp of approval in the eye of potential users to be available with them – and it means people can demo MekaMon. There’s been some great videos of MekaMon stomping about the Regent Street Apple store.
VEU: What was the feeling like for you when your business reached international success. Do you feel like you have arrived yet?
My work is certainly a lot more international – I spend much of my time travelling now!
It’s still quite strange to see people around the world talking about MekaMon – or find myself listed in 30 under 30’s features. V1 launching last year was huge though – seeing the idea I first sketched out years ago become commercially available was quite a moment.
I think with tech, that feeling of having ‘arrived’ comes a bit incrementally. Because we’re dealing with advancements every day – I’ll get back to the office after a trip to find we’ve solved a problem or one of the team has developed an incredible new feature.
I definitely have a lot more of the journey ahead. Watch this space!
VEU: What upcoming projects do you have in the works for your business?
We’re constantly working to improve MekaMon and to this end we’ve just announced the launch of MekaMon V2. It’s going be available from the 16th October so it’s all hands on deck at the moment but we’re really excited for people to see the advancements we’ve made.
VEU: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The people you associate with will make or break your dream, find people that understand your vision. Quite early on I met Chris Beck and John Rees who would become CTO and COO of the newly founded Reach Robotics. A little further down the line, Dr Jonathan Quinn joined to build up the game team and the company has grown from there. Their experience was crucial to building the business – Reach Robotics simply wouldn’t exist without them. Always put people first.
Learn more at https://mekamon.com